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How water shortages threaten jobs and growth


An estimated three out of four jobs globally are dependent on water, meaning that shortages and lack of access are likely to limit economic growth in the coming decades, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

About 1.5 billion people – half the world’s workers – are employed in industries heavily dependent on water, most of them in farming, fisheries and forestry, the U.N. World Water Development Report 2016 said.

“There is a direct effect on jobs worldwide if there are disruptions in water supply through natural causes, such as droughts, or if water doesn’t get to communities because of infrastructure problems,” said Richard Connor, the report’s editor-in-chief.

Research has shown investment in small-scale projects providing access to safe water and basic sanitation in Africa could offer a return equivalent to almost 5 percent of the continent’s economic output, the report said.

In the United States, every $1 million invested in the country’s water supply and treatment infrastructure generates between 10 and 20 additional jobs, according to the report.

“Whether it’s a water treatment facility or a system to bring water to fields to irrigate, you’re not just funding that project,” Connor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“You’re creating a multiplier effect: jobs are being created because water becomes available.”

Fleur Anderson, global head of campaigns at charity Water Aid, said the high cost of water in many developing countries also affects jobs and economic choices.

In Papua New Guinea, for example, poor people have to spend 54 percent of their day’s earnings to buy 50 litres of water, the amount the World Health Organization says a person needs every day for domestic use and to maintain health and hygiene.

This compares with as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage in Britain.

“It means countries are not getting the economic benefits of their working population because people are spending so much of their money on water,” Anderson said.


Demand for water is expected to increase by 2050 as the world’s population is forecast to grow by one-third to more than 9 billion, according to the United Nations.

This in turn will lead to a 70 percent increase in demand for food, putting more pressure on water through farming, which is already the biggest consumer of water.

As climate change contributes to rising sea levels and extreme weather, at least one in four people will live in a country with chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water by 2050, the United Nations estimates, making it more important to focus on expanding rainwater harvesting and recycling wastewater.

Connor said funding for projects was still often based on “investment in pumps and pipes” rather than a more holistic view, taking into account water’s key role in building a sustainable economy as part of the new global development goals.

More investment in renewable energy such as solar and wind, which use very little water, is also crucial in reducing demand for water, Connor said.

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6 Comments on "How water shortages threaten jobs and growth"

  1. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Mar 2016 7:04 pm 

    First: “Growth” is over. Period.

    Second: In the Us, jobs are evolving from a living wage to a subsistence income, subsidized by the government to keep you under their control. Elsewhere they are stagnant.

    Third: Water is life. All else is extra. Economies are not important in the long run. Nor are countries or borders. They will all melt away in the near future as survival will be the only thing you are concerned with.

  2. Apneaman on Tue, 22nd Mar 2016 8:18 pm 

    Ten Times Faster Than a Hothouse Extinction — Human Carbon Emission is Worst in at Least 66 Million Years

    “If you look over the entire … last 66 million years, the only event that we know of … that has a massive carbon release and happens over a relatively short period of time is the PETM. We actually have to go back to relatively old periods. Because in the more recent past, we don’t see anything [even remotely] comparable to what humans are currently doing.” Richard Zeebe of the University of Hawaii in a recent paper published in Nature.”

  3. Apneaman on Tue, 22nd Mar 2016 8:24 pm 

    We had all better hope these scientists are wrong about the planet’s future

  4. makati1 on Tue, 22nd Mar 2016 11:26 pm 

    Ap, I suspect that they will be wrong because they were too optimistic. Mother Nature can change the world almost overnight if she wants to. Did you know that there are some 36 volcanoes under Antarctica? What happens if they are suddenly brought to life by the growing weight of the oceans on the earth’s crust? The last one to erupt was just last year. Mt Erebus.

    The amount of frozen water on the Antarctic continent would raise the seas some 200 feet. Goodbye most of the US East Coast as far inland as I-95. All of Florida, New Jersey and Delaware. All of the ports and cities on the East Coast. Only the tops of buildings and monuments would be above water in DC. The whole Mississippi River valley would change drastically. Not to mention all of the fault lines it would move as that weight compresses the ocean floor even more.

    I did a lot of research on the subject when I wrote my SF novel a few years ago. North and South America would be separate continents again and the ocean currents would change drastically. The ME would disappear, for the most part as would a lot of the rest of the world we know. It was a fascinating line of thought.

    How fast did it happen in my novel? It took a few months as the ice moved to the sea on a river of hot water, but not much longer to reach the rest of the world.

    I do not pay much attention to timelines for events that humans think they control, because they are always wrong. I just watch what is happening everyday and consider it’s ramifications on my world. It’s the best show on Earth.

    Pass the popcorn.

  5. Davy on Wed, 23rd Mar 2016 7:35 am 

    Mother Nature can change the world overnight that’s for sure. Asia is a clear example of unsupportable population overshoot that could quickly become a famine of epic proportions overnight never experienced and never to be experienced again. You get bragging rights on that one.

  6. Kenz300 on Wed, 23rd Mar 2016 9:10 am 

    Time to move to wind and solar for power generation……

    Fossil fuel power plants use a lot of water to generate electricity…….

    Wind and solar —- not so much……..

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